Family Violence Financial abuse “Im still paying off the debt 15 years after leaving”

Financial abuse not only negatively impacts the financial security of women when they are in the abusive relationship but well after they have left the abusive relationship. This leaves many women and their children in poverty and vulnerable to homelessness.

“Although there is no exact measure, research indicates that financial abuse in intimate relationships is widespread and common. It is known that a majority of women (between 80 – 90 per cent) seeking support for domestic and family violence have experienced financial abuse (Potmus et al, 2013; Sharp 2008; McDonald 2012:12).”

Family violence not only negatively impacts women’s financial security when they are in the abusive relationship, the lack of financial security continues post-separation. Many abusive men continue to financially abuse their ex-partners and exert control by abusing the courts and other government institutions such as the Child Support Agency.

“On an individual level, domestic violence creates complex economic issues for women and their children and disrupts their lives over the short and long-term. Regardless of their prior economic circumstances, many women experience financial risk or poverty as a result of domestic violence. These difficulties hamper their recovery and capacity to regain control over their lives.

Domestic violence directly affects women’s financial security in key areas of life: debts, bills and banking, accommodation, legal issues, health, transport, migration, employment, social security and child support.”  

In WIRE’s 2014 research report Relationship Problems and Money: Women talk about financial abuse, WIRE spoke to 59 women in focus groups about their experience of financial abuse and 145 women participated in an on-line survey.

Our findings clearly show that women’s financial security is negatively impacted in the short and long-term as a result of financial abuse.

“I had about $32,000 saved up in cash. I was working and I was working a lot, I was working a lot of hours and was doing a number of jobs going at the same time. I had plenty of money, probably for the first time I was sort of peaking in what I was earning. And also because the relationship was so abusive, my capacity to work went down as well and my income actually dropped because I wasn’t able to juggle everything and my energy levels just weren’t there.

And when I left I was about $7000 in debt and it was a bit heartbreaking because it’s so hard to save that amount of money.”  

In addition financial abuse often continues even after the intimate relationship has ended.

Our findings included that for many women the financial abuse manifested itself in many ways post separation including:

• Non-payment of Child Support payments

• The perpetrator acting as a vexatious litigant causing their ex-partner to use any savings they have to fund legal costs

• Perpetrators withholding money to pressure their ex-partner into financial deals that disadvantage them in the short and long-term.

“Well my ex-husband is definitely, blatantly, obviously using the system to abuse me. Like I said I am about to go to court for the eighth time for child support. He is taking me to court. He has a [child support] debt; he won’t pay it. He is not going through the child support system because he has already appealed it and they have said no. So he is going through the legal system because he has the money and he is spending more on legal fees than the child support.

It is just a control thing and it is just about breaking me down and he is doing all sorts of things within the system to abuse me.”

The financial abuse that women experience is further compounded by the gender pay gap which amounts to women on average earning 18.2 per cent less than men. This financial abuse is exacerbated by women having to juggle work and family due to primary care responsibilities for dependent children, limiting their access to employment and in many cases to more highly paid career options.

Innovation in providing support to women who have experienced financial abuse WIRE has built on its 2007 research ‘Women’s Financial Literacy Report ’ in order to provide a gendered response to financial abuse in the context of family violence.

This approach is both preventative as well as restorative. In this research it was determined that women’s relationship with money and the societal expectations of women as poor financial managers had a significant impact in how women respond to money issues and their perception of themselves as a good financial manager.

omen repeatedly told us that their partner would ridicule their skills as a financial manager as a way of perpetrating financial abuse and using money to control them. Women often cited that it was their relationship with money and what they believed to be the cultural or community norm that made them more vulnerable to financial abuse.

WIRE’s work in this financial abuse space includes working with women and understanding their relationship with money and how perpetrators exploit stereotypes of women being poor money managers.

WIRE along with other organisations from 2011 to 2013 received funding from a variety of sources to provide workshops and financial information to women that identified as currently experiencing financial abuse.

Generally these programs had very poor reach, with few women participating. As a result of these programs not meeting expectations WIRE undertook its 2014 research, Relationship Problems and Money: Women talk about financial abuse to build knowledge and understanding of the nature and impact of financial abuse in the context of family violence, to identify the barriers that prevent women from accessing their financial entitlements and other information that would improve their financial security outcome. T

he research findings included identifying strategies to overcome these barriers. As a result of the findings from our research and through collaboration and information sharing with other organisations in the financial abuse space, WIRE is in the process of undertaking new innovative projects that take into account all new available information regarding how best to work with women who have experienced financial abuse.

WIRE’s innovation Reducing financial abuse needs to occur at multiple levels – at the preventive level as well as the recovery level. To this end WIRE is doing the following:


Providing information and support to women entering new intimate relationships on engaging their partner in constructive money conversations.

The project is a financial capability project rather than a financial abuse project.By working with women and providing a space for them to understand their relationship with money and build their confidence and skills to talk to their intimate partner about money issues, women have the opportunity to take action if they see the early signs of financial abuse.

The second phase of this project is yet to be funded and includes creating a website for women on having money conversations with their partner.

As a prevention strategy this project has several advantages:

o Women do not have to identify as experiencing family violence to participate.

o The project is aimed at women who are entering or have newly formed relationships and thus a relationship in which the norms are being established.

If financial abuse is indicated by the woman’s responses to assessment questions about her financial relationship with her partner, the website will inform her that what she is experiencing may be financial abuse and that financial abuse is a form of family violence, and provide information regarding where she can seek support. This once again reaches women who may not have sought assistance for financial abuse.

Reducing the impact of financial abuse: WIRE will in 2015 commence an innovative program called New Beginning: Steps to a more secure financial future.

This program aims to enable women who have experienced family violence to improve their short, medium and long-term financial security outcomes by decreasing their financial recovery time.

The project provides women throughout Victoria with financial capability support through oneon-one support and workshops. Like the Strong Beginnings- Financial Equals project this program will provide women with information to enable them to assess their relationship with money and understand the tactics perpetrators use to control women and children through money.

These workshops and support will be provided by staff who have a Definition of financial capability: Financial capability is the combination of attitude, knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy needed to make and exercise money management decisions that best fit the circumstances of one’s life, within an enabling environment that includes, but is not limited to, access to appropriate financial services, understanding of financial capability and work within a strength-based, trauma-informed and gendered framework; thus enabling the support to be tailored to the needs of women that have experienced family violence.

• Training to the community services sector: WIRE is a recognised expert in the field of financial abuse and is also a registered training organisation with a long history of providing accredited and non-accredited training to the community sector.

To enable more community sector workers to recognise financial abuse and thus take appropriate action in concert with their clients, WIRE since 2011 has been delivering professional development training regarding financial abuse in the context of family violence.

Family violence and employment “[It} was a city of 10,000, so everyone knows everyone; we were in a high profile business so that definitely had a play. I mean it had a big impact on me being able to get work because my ex-husband retained the business and it was one of the largest businesses in town and he said to me, ‘Look I have blackened your name everywhere, you won’t be able to get employment because no one will be game enough to employ you because I will pull the business away from them and no one will be game enough to hire you’ and it was true because I applied for several jobs and I didn’t even get an interview so we moved cities … So I lost my career in that my qualifications weren’t transferrable and I didn’t realise that when we split and so I lost the business and my home and our farm and all the assets but I was lucky enough to retain enough to have a house.”

•••••• Any strategies developed to protect the financial security of women who have experienced family violence must enable women to acquire decent and secure employment. We have already established in this submission that women and their children who experience family violence are far more vulnerable to poverty, financial insecurity and homelessness.

The most effective way to counter poverty is meaningful and decently paid employment. “Gaining and maintaining paid work is pivotal in creating a secure financial future for victims of domestic violence and their families.”

However, participation in employment can be seriously undermined by ongoing abuse and its subsequent effects. Australian researchers, for example, found that some women had not been allowed to work while in a violent relationship and found it difficult to enter or re-enter the workforce post separation.

These findings are echoed in overseas studies, which highlight how domestic violence not only acts as a barrier to education, training, and employment but also can escalate when survivors seek or participate in such activities. In order to maintain control over their partners, abusers may interfere with women’s efforts to become self-sufficient.

Women affected by domestic violence are also more likely to have a disrupted work history and are more likely to occupy casual and part-time work than women with no experience of violence. In short, women escaping and experiencing domestic violence are often the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in the labour market.

Some researchers argue that the dominant approaches to domestic violence in Australia have been crisis oriented and focused on providing accommodation, welfare assistance, and emergency support services to women and children without looking towards job search and training to facilitate financial security independent of social service agencies.”

National Domestic Violence and Workplace Survey (2011) noted that two thirds of family violence survivors are in paid employment. This statistic highlights the importance of enabling women affected by family violence to continue their employment.

Apart from providing crucial financial security, employment often also provides support networks to women who are experiencing family violence. This strategy aimed at retaining women in employment is critical. The ACTU is presently running a case to insert Domestic Violence Clauses (including paid leave) into Modern Awards.

As of November 2013 over 1.2 million workers in Australia now have access to paid Family Violence leave. WIRE supports all employers incorporating the ACTU’s Domestic Violence Clauses into their industrial Agreements and policy documents. Some women may need to give up their employment to escape their abuser; others may not have had an opportunity to work whilst in an abusive relationship.

Thus many women who have experienced family violence will require additional assistance finding employment. Assistance provided to women who have experienced family violence needs to incorporate job search expertise, a strengths based approach to working with women and additionally have a strong understanding of the impact of family violence on women and children.

WIRE runs weekly job coaching for women. Often women who have experienced family violence attend job coaching to get support and advice on how to find employment.

Women who have experienced family violence often present to job coaching with multiple barriers to overcome which includes but is not limited to:

For women that have had to change their identity as a safety measure, they are not able to demonstrate a work history or provide referee details or written references to prospective employers.

Many women in abusive relationships are prevented by their abusive partner from working and earning an independent income, and thus they do not have a recent work history.

Many abusive men isolate their partners in order to exert control.

Over time the woman’s network diminishes, leaving the woman with few networks to utilise to find employment.

Women that have accessed security and housing in a family violence refuge must give up their usual routine – this includes any employment they may have had prior to leaving the abusive relationship.

Women are placed in refuges away from their local community; for some women this means moving from the city to a regional centre or vice versa. Maintaining employment in these circumstances is exceedingly difficult.

Women in abusive relationships can have a poor work history as a result of their abusive partner using control tactics which prevent the woman from keeping her job.

Examples of these tactics include:

Taking away the woman’s access to transportation to work

Refusing at short notice to care for children

Stalking the woman at work so that she is unable to perform her work

Women often report being psychologically exhausted by the violence and intimidation to the extent that they had difficulty holding down a job.

Women have increased absenteeism from work as a result of psychological and physical injuries inflicted on them by an abusive partner. These unexplained absences from work are often interpreted by an employer as the woman not caring about their job and being unprofessional. As a result women may lose their jobs.

Women’s confidence is greatly affected by the controlling, disrespectful and undermining behaviour of their abusive partner. This reduced confidence also manifests itself when women are looking for work.

Recommendations for addressing financial abuse and increasing women’s financial security

• Women who have experienced financial abuse to have access to timely and extensive financial counselling and support, that involves exploring women’s relationship with money and the impact that social stereotypes, family and upbringing may have had on a woman’s confidence in financial decision making.

• Women who have experienced family violence having access to specialist employment programs that include but are not limited to intensive job search support and job matching programs.

 • That all employers including the State government make available in their industrial agreements and policy documents the ACTU’s Domestic Violence Clause provisions. Increasing the effectiveness and accessibility of family violence services

Effective response: women accessing family violence support during their recovery phase The effects of family violence do not end when the abuse ends. The road to recovery can be a slow holistic process that encompasses emotional, physical and financial wellbeing.

“I wake up in the morning and I feel physically sick and I think, ‘Where do I start?’ I wake up every morning and I vomit in the shower.” ••••••• -describing having to cope with extreme poverty well after leaving the abusive relationship. -is unable to find work, struggles to find affordable accommodation and provide food for herself and her daughter.

Why doesn’t she just get over it? Unfortunately this is still a question asked by many in the community. The vast majority of family violence practitioners and services understand that the trauma women experience when subjected to family violence often leaves women with deep emotional, psychological, financial and physical scars.

Even so, many family violence services do not have the resources to provide these women with a service. Women that have not received assistance from family violence services at the point of leaving have increased difficulty accessing family violence specific services down the track.

This may be because their needs are viewed as being less critical than women that are at the point of leaving (one of the most dangerous times for women and children in abusive relationships), and most definitely due to the pull on resources to keep women and children that are deemed most in danger, safe.

Not all women will contact family violence services for assistance at the point of terminating an abusive relationship. Some will only seek assistance when particular flashpoints occur after the woman has left the abusive relationship; and others may seek assistance from the point of separation and as flashpoints occur post separation.

Examples of flashpoints include: 

Ex-partner begins to stalk physically or electronically

The woman faces a housing crisis

There is a recurrence of violence or the threat of violence from their ex-partner Ex-partner moves to a location close to the woman and her children

The woman becomes aware that the ex-partner is trying to locate her

There is an issue regarding child maintenance payments

Court hearings

The woman is feeling an emotional strain which is causing her difficulty with functioning at some level.

WIRE speaks to many women that have tried to access family violence services at these flashpoints. They often tell us that once the family violence service has conducted a safety screening, they are told that due to the number of women in crisis, their situation is not considered a priority.

For many women, the experience of being told that they are not a priority or their situation is not serious enough gives the message that they are on their own and they have failed to ‘just get on with life’.  Due to lack of resources and the high demand from women, family violence services are compelled to triage women requests for service.

We need to move to a system that is able to assist women not only at the point of crisis but throughout the recovery and rebuilding process.

Family violence services should:

utilize trauma-informed practice

have a strengths based approach

enable women to receive support for the long-term effects of family violence

take into account that some women may require long-term support, others short-term and/or episodic support

recognise that the experience of family violence makes women and their children more vulnerable to homelessness, financial insecurity, and continuing emotional distress; and that this vulnerability can exist for years after the woman has left the abusive relationship.

Proactively reaching women WIRE receives calls from women who have been told by police that they would be contacted by a family violence service, but this contact has not happened.

With the police attending 65,000 incidences of family violence last year WIRE is very aware that family violence providers throughout Victoria are overwhelmed by the increased numbers of L17s.

This is resulting in those services having to prioritise the L17s that they respond to first and the method by which they respond. For some women being told by the police that they will be contacted by a family violence service is their first experience of family violence support services and when that assistance does not materialise it is disappointing and discourages further contact with support services.

The introduction of L17s has been highly beneficial.

It has enabled family violence services to be proactive and contact women who would not have otherwise contacted a family violence service. This has often led to women and children leaving abusive relationships earlier with the assistance of specialist services.

Timely and proactive intervention by family violence services to women involved in family violence incidences attended to by police is a crucial element of Victoria’s family violence response and as such must be appropriately funded.

Recommendations for increasing the effectiveness and accessibility of family violence services:

That services that manage L17s are provided with additional funding so that they can act on the L17s within a reasonable time frame.

Women have access to family violence specific services and are able to engage with the family violence service delivery system on a short-term, long-term or episodic basis.

That family violence specific services are funded to support women who have experienced family violence related trauma and have ongoing issues as a result of the family violence they experienced, and this includes providing evidence-based family violence recovery programs and making support available to women.

Holding perpetrating men accountable for their actions In our community and in our institutions, the responsibility to manage family violence is often left to the women who are experiencing the violence.

It is the woman that holds the responsibility for ending the violence. This culture of blaming the victim needs to end. The culture of blaming the victim enables the perpetrator to have his behaviour excused and tolerated. It must be the individual perpetrating the violence that faces the consequences of their actions at every level of society. T

his includes at work, sporting clubs, churches, schools and in the justice system. All too often women must leave the family home to end the violence. This relocation often results in women losing their jobs and social networks, and removing their children from schools and friendship networks. The loss associated with having to relocate is a significant barrier to leaving an abusive relationship.

Women and children leaving an abusive relationship face a significant risk of homelessness. Women carry the financial burden of ending an abusive relationship. Women who have violent partners find their options are limited to either living with violence, or living in poverty and facing potential homelessness. The choice is not an enviable one.

The perpetrator is often very aware that their partner’s options are limited and uses this to further control the behaviour of their partner.

There are many ways to reinforce that perpetrating men are responsible for their violent and abusive behaviour, and that they will be held to account and experience negative consequences.

Recommendations to hold perpetrating men accountable for their actions:

That the legal system and family violence sector continue to reinforce the concept that the perpetrator should be made to leave the family home, and not the victim

That the perpetrator has financial responsibility for the child raising costs of their children including contributing to accommodation costs after the perpetrator has been removed from the family home

That rent concessions are available to women who need assistance paying rent for the family home after a perpetrator has left. This enables the woman and her children to remain in the family home.

That banks and financial institutions have trained staff to work with women who have experienced family violence, so that debts including mortgages can be renegotiated to assist the women to continue living in their family home.

Perpetrating males who do not have alternative accommodation are relocated to group dwellings where men’s behavioural change programs are compulsory.

All men that are charged with family violence related offences are mandated to attend family violence specific behavioural change programs.

Where appropriate, perpetrators have ankle bracelets to track their movements

All women who have experienced family violence have access to financial support so that they can make their house more secure, for example with CCTV cameras and new locks.

Women having access to workplace entitlements that will support them to continue their employment. This includes paid time to manage their family violence situation.

That if work equipment such as a work phone or car is used to commit an act of family violence even if it is not considered an act in which criminal charges can be laid that the perpetrator will be disciplined by the employer.

If the perpetrator and the victim have the same place of employment, the perpetrator must alter their work patterns to accommodate any Apprehended Violence Orders (AVOs).

Submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence (Victoria) WIRE Women’s Information and Referral Exchange Inc.

That from kindergarten upwards within our education system, children are taught appropriate conflict resolution strategies and explicitly taught that family violence is not tolerated and the actions of the perpetrator are never justified.

“I am still paying off the debt 15 years after leaving.

Participant of WIRE’s Relationship Problems and Money

Women talk about financial abuse research 2014 Financial abuse is a form of family violence recognised by the Family Violence Protection Act (2008).

This was first published by WIRE as their submission to the Royal Commission of Family Violence 2015.


Children who experience Childhood Trauma do not “just get over it”

Humans are relatively adaptable beings which is why we are thriving and not dying out like other species. Horrendous disasters such as the Philippines typhoon, the Boxing Day Tsunami, the nuclear disaster in Japan, the major wars of our time, and horrific famines see great suffering, but these events also inspires survival through adaptation. It turns out we possess a strong survival mechanism in our brains directly linked to our bodies, fight, flight, freeze, flop and friend (fffff).

traumaIn fact, the survival part of our brain, which is primitive yet effective, is the first to develop in utero starting at around 7 weeks. It regulates our breathing, digestive system, heart rate and temperature, along with the ‘fffff’ system which operates to preserve our life.

If we have to dodge a falling object, jump out of the path of a speeding car, keep very still to avoid being seen, run for the hills from a predator, or get someone potentially threatening ‘onside’ we need this to happen fast. If a baby is scared, cold, hungry, lonely, or in any way overwhelmed this triggers their survival system and they cry to bring an adult to them to help them survive.

If a baby is repeatedly scared and emotionally overwhelmed and they do not get their survival brain soothed, so they can cope, they begin to develop a brain and bodily system which is on hyper alert and the World seems to be a scary place. Sadly, this not something they can ‘just grow out of’. Far from it as what neuroscience is showing us from all the recent findings. An early experience has a profound effect on the way in which a child’s brain forms and operates as the survival brain is on over drive and senses threat everywhere so works too hard, too often, for too long.

Babies and young children systems are flooded with potent stress hormones which help in the event of needing the 5 fffff’s, but they are not good to have at high levels for too long. Imagine the feeling when you truly believe you have lost your wallet with all your cards and money in. You feel a bit faint, your brain is whirring, your heart racing, breathing is shallow, and you may get the urge to empty your bowels or bladder. Hopefully, this may only lasts for the usual 45 minute cycle for those who are not traumatised.

Then stress hormone levels drop and you can think more clearly and resume your day fairly unscathed. What if you are 4, 9 or 15 years old though, how will you cope, especially as your repetitive early childhood trauma of living with domestic violence, unavailable or rough carers, chaos and unpredictability has left you traumatised?

As I referred to at the start, humans are amazingly adaptable in order to survive, although not necessarily thrive. So a child’s system adapts to get whatever basic needs met it can and to live to the next moment, think soldier in a war zone kind of survival. In an abusive environment this will make sense but it is not something a child can just stop doing as their survival brain is in charge and has to do what it has learnt to keep them alive.

The kinds of survival behaviours they commonly develop are:


Presenting as helpless may have made carers frustrated, even angry and rough with them but will mean they sometimes had to touch a child who presented as unable to say get dressed or wipe their bottom or feed themselves – this can look like immaturity and ‘babyish’ behaviour in an 8 year old but it has previously served a purpose

Being held and touched kindly is a basic human need and tragically children in Romanian orphanages who were not, died. Almost ‘pathetically’ children often devise ways which can seem strange, given their age and previous capabilities, to get some physical contact, even if it’s unpleasant

Children often learn to survive by being ‘like a baby’ as they have either learnt that baby’s get more kindness and attention or have some inbuilt ‘memory’ of this – this can be negatively viewed as regression yet is often an expression of trust in carers as they feel safe enough post abuse to seek out kindness from them so it needs gentle handling and holding until the child is ready to move on. Imagine you had never experienced physical closeness and gentle touch but were driven to seek it out, that takes real courage.

Dramatic reactions

When a child is in the ‘I’ve lost my keys’ panic state most of the day, it’s like a pan boiling on the stove and the smallest extra heat causes it to boil over

The survival brain leaps into action at the slightest thing, an accidental shove from another child, a small scratch on the arm, a lost pencil, a ‘look’ from another child and the 5 fffff’s are triggered, for most children that’s flight but if cornered and unable to escape, or previously over used, it will be fight

Children may cry more readily and for much longer and louder as they do not have the ability to self soothe or to be soothed easily as their brain has not been exposed to this and is not wired that way so telling them to ‘calm down’ is of no use

They are feeling things as deeply as they seem to be at this point and are not just ‘attention seeking’


Disassociation or ‘zoning out’ is another way the brain and body copes with high levels of potentially toxic stress hormones for overly long periods. It can also be a learnt survival strategy, submit, switch off and wait for the frightening, painful, incomprehensible act to be over. This ability to switch off can look like defiance or non-compliance as a child may just stare ahead and not respond to requests from adults

Children cannot continuously cope with the muscle tension, nausea, thudding heart, racing thoughts so finding something to fixate on to soothe them can become a great coping strategy and again will look as if they are being non-compliant whereas they are escaping from their trauma the only way they know how.

How long until they do ‘get over it?’

It’s a fair question as why it’s so hard for traumatised children to trust caring adults. If they were removed from the abuse and trauma as a baby or even directly after birth, surely they should not be having these dramatic reactions?

Going back to our survival part of our brain, this is not designed to be the dominant part of anyone’s brain as we also have an emotional memories part and a thinking, reasoning, socially able cognitive part which should mostly be ‘in charge’. All three areas are interlinked and share info back and forth all the time but mostly we need to think before we act and then we do better. However, if your start in life has made your survival brain ‘hyper alert’ then to manage this is like repeatedly trying to get a squirrel into a matchbox!

Children need us to be calm, kind, to use rhythm, patience and to try to step into their world and emotional state and show empathy.As practitioners it can be helpful to research ways of supporting traumatised children, pushing for appropriate training and most importantly being very aware of the extra strain that comes with working with and caring for traumatised children. However, with the right long term acceptance, kindness and support children can get a better chance at eventually being able to manage their reactive survival brain which has, after all, got them this far. 

National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010–2022 by Aust Govt

Overview and definitions 

This paper summarises a recent Parliamentary Library publication on domestic violence. It provides an overview of the prevalence, risk factors and cost of domestic violence in Australia.

This paper uses the term domestic violence to refer to ‘acts of violence that occur between people who have, or have had, an intimate relationship’ which  is  the definition used in the Australian Government’s National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010–2022. It may include physical, sexual, financial, emotional or psychological abuse. The ‘central element of domestic violence is an ongoing pattern of behaviour aimed at controlling a partner through fear’. Family violence is a broader term which may involve a variety of kinship and marital arrangements. It is often used in the context of, though not restricted to, violence experienced in Indigenous communities.


In 2013 the World Health Organization found that violence against women is a violation of human rights that affects more than one third of all women, and ‘a global public health problem of epidemic proportions’.

Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) notes that, in Australia, domestic violence is the most prevalent form of violence experienced by women, and a woman is more likely to be assaulted in her home by a male partner than anywhere or anyone else.

Information on the prevalence of domestic violence in Australia is derived from surveys including the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Personal Safety Survey (PSS) 2012 and 2005, the Australian elements of the 2004 International Violence Against Women Survey (IVAWS), and the 1996 Women’s Safety Australia.

Although a stronger evidence base is required as the full extent of domestic violence remains unknown, it is known that themajority of those who experience domestic violence are women, and such violence affects members of all cultures, ages and socio-economic groups. ANROWS has summarised the results of the 2012 PSS, highlighting that, since the age of 15:

  • 1 in 6 Australian women had experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner
  • 1 in 19 Australian men had experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner
  • 1 in 4 Australian women had experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner
  • 1 in 7 Australian men had experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner.

There are a range of challenges involved in collecting and analysing data on domestic violence. The 2012 PSS defined violence as at least one incident involving the occurrence, attempt or threat of either physical or sexual assault, so these figures fail to reflect different patterns and experiences of violence, including duration, scale and severity. Women are over-represented in intimate partner homicides, and much more likely to experience sexual assault than men. Of all Australian women, 15 per cent had been sexually assaulted by a person they knew. One in 22 Australian men had experienced sexual violence, by a person known or unknown to them.

Perpetration of violence is also gendered, and ANROWS states that it is more likely for a person to experience violence from a male rather than a female perpetrator.  More than three times as many people over the age of 15 were found to have experienced violence from a male than a female.

Risk factors and at-risk groups

Key research findings demonstrate that:

  • Gender inequality is a key determinant of violence against women.
  • Alcohol and drug use can lead to higher levels of aggression by perpetrators. A study found that between 2000 and 2006 44 per cent of all intimate partner homicides, and 87 per cent of Indigenous intimate partner homicides, were alcohol related.
  • Past experience of violent victimisation can predict future victimisation. IVAWS found that women who experienced abuse during childhood are one and a half times more likely to experience violence in adulthood than those who did not. People who experienced childhood sexual abuse were found to be three times more likely to experience partner violence than those who had not.
  • Pregnancy may intensify the risk of domestic violence. A quarter of women who experienced partner violence since the age of 15 reported experiencing domestic violence for the first time from a previous partner while pregnant.
  • Separated women are more likely to experience violence than married women, and it is most common for women to experience violence from a male ex-partner. It may be that violence follows separation, or the decision to separate is due to violence.International studies indicate that leaving a violent partner may increase the risk of more severe, or even fatal, violence.
  • Young women are more likely to have recently experienced violence than older women. Researchers suggest that inexperience, age differences in relationships, and lack of access to services exacerbate younger women’s vulnerability to violence. Young men are more likely to hold pro-violence attitudes, and research indicates that pro-violence attitudes decrease with age.
  • Indigenous women and their children are more likely to experience violence than any other section of society. When compared to non-Indigenous women, Indigenous women are five times more likely to be homicide victims. Rates of domestic assaultreported to police are also more than six times higher for Indigenous women.
  • Rural and remote areas have a higher reported incidence of domestic violence than metropolitan settings. Those who have experienced domestic violence may lack access to services, transport and telecommunications, and suffer a lack of anonymity.
  • Women with disabilities are vulnerable to violence due to social and cultural disadvantage, and a greater dependence on other people for care, including, in some situations, the perpetrator of violence. Women and girls with disabilities may be twice as likely to experience violence as those without disabilities. Adults with intellectual or psychiatric disabilities are particularly at risk of sexual assault.
  • Women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds may lack access to culturally appropriate services, leading to lower rates of reporting. Drawing conclusions regarding domestic violence in selected CALD communities is difficult as research has produced mixed findings. Cultural values can increase the complexities normally involved in domestic violence, andimmigration may cause social and cultural dislocation, intensifying domestic violence.
  • Financial stress may cause, or be exacerbated by, domestic violence. While domestic violence cuts across social and economic boundaries, further research is needed to adequately analyse the relationship between domestic violence, education, employment status and income. While IVAWS found that experiences of current intimate partner violence during the previous 12 months varied little according to education, status or household income, ABS data suggests that women whose main income is from government support are at increased risk of violence from a previous partner.
  • Same-sex intimate relationships may also involve domestic violence, and approximately 2 per cent of intimate partner homicides in Australia involved partners from same-sex relationships since 1989–90. Males were also overrepresented as perpetrators in same-sex intimate partner homicides.

Attitudes, reporting and policing

Attitudes towards domestic violence can influence perpetration and reporting behaviours. People with low support for gender equality are more likely to hold violence-supportive attitudes.

Most women do not report experiences of violence to police, and are less likely to report when the perpetrator is their current partner. Of women who contacted police about their most recently violent previous partner, half had a restraining order issued, but 58 per cent of those experienced further violence.

The Australian police and criminal justice systems are commonly criticised for not treating domestic violence seriously enough. Concerns have been commonly expressed about a lack of survivor support, failures to fully investigate incidents, and a lack of consistent policing (both within and across jurisdictions). The Australasian Policing Strategy for Preventing and Reducing Family Violence was launched in 2008 to coordinate police policies, practices and information-sharing. There has also been a shift towards broader collaboration with partner agencies to provide referrals and support.

Social and economic costs

  • Homicide: 61 per cent of Australian homicides between July 2008 and July 2010 occurred in a residential location, and domestic homicides accounted for just over half of these incidents.
  • Health: domestic violence can have severe and enduring effects on physical and mental health. Using burden of disease methodology, domestic violence was found to be the leading risk factor contributing to death, disability and illness in Victorian women aged 15 to 44 years.
  • Children and adolescents living with domestic and family violence are at increased risk of experiencing emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Their social, behavioural, cognitive and emotional development may also be affected, as well as education and employment outcomes. Of people aged 12 to 20 years, 23 per cent had witnessed violence against their mother or step-mother, while 42 per cent of Indigenous young people had witnessed violence against their mother or step-mother.
  • Economic: in 2009 it was estimated that violence against women and their children, including both domestic and non-domestic violence, cost the Australian economy $13.6 billion. Domestic violence also creates complex economic issues for women and their children, and many experience financial risk or poverty as a result. Domestic violence affects women’s financial security in key areas of life: debts, bills and banking, accommodation, legal issues, health, transport, migration, employment, social security and child support. Women nominated finding safe, affordable and appropriate accommodation post-separation as their biggest concern in a study of economic wellbeing and domestic violence.
  • Homelessness: domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness, accounting for 32 per cent of all clients receiving assistance from specialist homelessness services in 2011–12. Women affected by domestic violence are more likely to cycle in and out of homelessness compared to the broader homeless population. The 2012 PSS found 37 per cent of women who experienced current partner violence had temporarily separated during the relationship and of these, 52 per cent had moved away from home. Violence also contributes to youth homelessness—a study found one third of young homeless people in Melbourne left home due to family violence.
  • Employment: some researchers argue that approaches to domestic violence should consider factors including employment, as paid work can be pivotal in creating financial security. Women experiencing domestic violence are often disadvantaged in the labour market, and are more likely to have a disrupted work history. Some private sector organisations now offer domestic violence leave, though these provisions have not been evaluated.

Government responses

The Commonwealth Government is responsible for over-arching government programs designed to reduce domestic violence nationally, though most programs and services aimed at preventing domestic violence and supporting survivors are administered through state and territory community services, health and law enforcement agencies.

Coalition and Labor governments have nominated reducing violence against women and domestic violence as a priority for many years. The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010–2022 (National Plan) was endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments in 2009. The National Plan set a framework for social change, coordination across levels of government and integrated responses. The National Plan is to be implemented through a series of four three‐year Action Plans over 12 years.

The first of these Action Plans is viewed as making significant progress, and most community feedback has been very positive. During a consultative process in early 2014, many argued that there had not been enough involvement of community groups, particularly those from Indigenous and culturally diverse backgrounds, and that progress had been too slow. The Second Action Plan, released in June 2014, acknowledges these concerns.  

The National Plan is administered under the ‘National Initiatives’ component of Program 2.1 Family and Communities, which was allocated $28.7 million in the 2014–15 Budget. However, the Abbott Government did not produce a 2014–15 women’s Budget statement, and therefore violence against women funding breakdowns are not available.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, visit ANROWS Get Support website or call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732), the 24 hour, National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line. In an emergency, call 000.

© Commonwealth of Australia

Walking on eggshells Emotional Abuse and Domestic Violence

Anger and abuse in relationships begin with blame: “I feel bad, and it’s your fault.”

Even when they recognize the wrongness of their behavior, resentful, angry, or emotionally abusive people are likely to blame it on their partners: “You push my buttons,” or, “I might have overreacted, but I’m human, and look what you did!” Angry and abusive people feel likevictims, which justifies in their mindsvictimizing others.

Angry and abusive partners tend to be anxious by temperament. From the time they were children, they’ve had a sense of dread that things will go badly and that they will fail to cope. They try to control their environment to avoid feelings of failure and inadequacy. The strategy of trying to control others fails to satisfy them for the simple reason that the primary cause of their anxiety is within them. It springs from one of two sources—a heavy dread of failure, or fear of harm, isolation, and deprivation.


The Silent Abuser

Not all emotional abuse involves shouting or criticism. More common forms are “disengaging” (a distracted or preoccupied partner) or “stonewalling” (a partner who refuses to accept anyone else’s perspective).  

Partners who stonewall may not overtly put anyone down. Nevertheless, they punishby refusing even to think about their partners’ perspectives. If they listen at all, they do so dismissively or impatiently.

Disengaging partners say, “Do whatever you want, just leave me alone.” They’re often workaholics, couch potatoes, flirts, or obsessive about something. They try to deal with their sense of inadequacy about relationships by simply not trying—since no attempt means no failure.

Both stonewalling and disengaging tactics can make you feel:

  • Unseen and unheard;
  • Unattractive;
  • Like you don’t count;
  • Like a single parent.

Harmful Adaptations to Anger and Abuse: Walking on Eggshells

The most insidious aspect of living with an angry or abusive partner is not the obvious—nervous reactions to shouting, name-calling, criticism or other demeaning behavior. It’s the adaptations you make to try to prevent those episodes. You walk on eggshells to keep the peace, or a semblance of connection.

Women can be especially vulnerable to the negative effects of walking on eggshells due to their greater tendency to be vulnerable to anxiety. Many may engage in constant self-editing and self-criticism to keep from “pushing his buttons.” Emotionally abused women may second-guess themselves so much that they feel as though they have lost themselves in a hole. Emotionally abused men tend to isolate more and more, losing themselves in work or hobbies—anything but family interactions.

No One Escapes the Effects of Abuse

Everyone in a walking-on-eggshells family loses some degree of dignity and autonomy. We know that no less than half the members of such families, including children, will suffer from clinical anxiety and/or depression. (“Clinical” meaning that the symptoms interfere with normal functioning. They can’t sleep, can’t concentrate, can’t work as efficiently, and can’t enjoy themselves without drinking.) Most of the adults lack genuine self-esteem(based on realistic self-appraisals), and the children rarely feel as good about themselves as other kids.

When it comes to more severe forms of destructiveness, purely emotional abuse is usually more psychologically harmful than physical abuse. There are a couple of reasons for this: Even in the most violent families, incidents tend to be cyclical. Early in the abuse cycle, a violent outburst may be followed by a “honeymoon period” of remorse, attention, affection, and generosity—but not genuine compassion. (The honeymoon stage eventually ends, as the victim begins to say, “Never mind the flowers, just stop hitting me!”) Emotional abuse, on the other hand, tends to happen every day—the effects are more harmful because they’re more frequent.

The other factor that makes emotional abuse so devastating is the greater likelihood that victims will blame themselves. When someone hits you, it’s easy to see that he or she is the problem. But when the abuse is subtle—saying or implying that you’re ugly, a bad parent, stupid, incompetent, not worth attention, or that no one could love you—you are more likely to think it’s your problem.

Important questions to ask of yourself:

  • Do I like myself?
  • Am I able to realize my potential?
  • Does everyone I care about feel safe?
  • Do my children like themselves?
  • Are they able to realize their fullest potential?
  • Do they feel safe?

Recovery from walking on eggshells requires removing focus from the repair of your relationship, or your partner, and placing it squarely on your personal healing. The good news is that the most powerful form of healing comes from within you. You can draw on your inner resources by reintegrating your deepest values into your everyday sense of self. This will make you feel more valuable, confident, and powerful, regardless of what your partner does. And it will give you the strength to seek a relationship in which you are valued and respected.

This is an interesting article I found in Pyschology Today about Anger & abuse & walking on eggshells.

Systematic Legal Abuse by Ignorant Legal Professionals in Family Law

When was the last time you implemented doors in your family law practice? The usual  reply makes reference to the position of the front door of the legal firms office.

Yet in 2012 the Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department released a comprehensive guide and handbook that required all facets of Legal professionals to adhere to this Handbook in their work Environment with clients.

(DOORS) Detection of Overall Risk Screen Handbook includes practitioner forms and software packages for free. The Family Law Branch of the Attorney-Generals Department will post a copy to you upon request for free. 

Yet herein lies the issue. Legal Aid Victoria,  does not use this required program. After four years of asking Legal Professionals by telephone and at the Family Court of Australia it appears that neither do they.

I am yet to meet one legal professional who in fact uses this important program. 

The ramifications of Professional Misconduct by Legal practitioners by not implementing this important program will be beacon for a domestic violence survivors class action suit.

As we are all aware “Judicial Discretion” daily in the Family Law Courts is not to be questioned. Yet the misconduct of  members of the Legal Profession is the simplest way of punishment for failing to provide required information to a case. I can picture the Appeal floodgates now.

The self absorbing method of “bums on seats”or “take the clients money and run” sometimes associated to Used Car Salespeople and Estate Agents will now become a dark cloud over the Legal Profession.

This turning point will take on a whole new chapter in Legal History Litigation. Professional Misconduct and renew of cases will be the new Legal Frontier for “no win no fee firms”. How can you not win when your Legal Representative has maliciously denied you “Natural Justice” by not adhering to the required legal guidelines in client assessment and Family Court?

The introductions of the said requirements of (DOORS) came into effect in 2012. The amount of cases with Legal Representation that have been through the factory fodder Family Law System since that date throughout Australia is a number I fear to count.

I am aware who will be counting, your Professional Liability Insurance  Broker and your Firms Payments team. 

Family Domestic violence being controlled by others you love

Every 3 hours an australian women is admitted to hospital due to domestic violence. These are not the only battle scars domestic violence survivors have.

If one more person asks me how can a survivor be abused by domestic violence and not have any physical scars I am going to scream. The unseen scars can mean a debilitating Mental illness, Psychological & economic abuse that is still occurring.

This is a brilliant article about Coercive Controlling Violence affecting us all by being hidden from the naked eye.

Domestic Abuse: Coercive Controlling Violence


Domestic abuse is ongoing, purposeful behavior that is aimed at dominating one’s partner, and often one’s children as well.3 It is also referred to as coercive controlling violence4 or simply, coercive control.5


Social norms and unequal distribution of resources (income, education, employment political power, etc.) lead some individuals to feel entitled to control their partner.  In heterosexual relationships, the norms and inequality are largely, but not entirely, gender-related. 

Gender of perpetrators
What coercive control looks like

Domestic abuse  involves repeated, ongoing, intentional control tactics used by one partner against the other. Those tactics may be physical, sexual, economic, psychological, legal, institutional, or all of the above. They often include:

  • Unreasonable and non-negotiable demands.
  • Stalking – surveillance and unwanted contact.
  • Cruelty.
  • Destroying the partner’s other relationships and isolating her/him from friends, family members, co-workers and others.
  • Restricting daily activities.
  • Coercion – a combination of demands, threats of negative consequences for noncompliance, and surveillance.6
  • Manipulation through minimization, denial, lies, promises, etc.
  • Threats and intimidation.
  • Excuses, rationalizations and blame. 
  • Stifling the partner’s independence.
  • Controlling partner’s access to information and services.
  • Sexual abuse and violence; reproductive coercion.7
  • Economic control and exploitation.
  • Identity abuse.
  • Physical violence – which can range from minor to lethal.  The physical violence typical of abuse is more frequent and severe than that typical of situational violence.8,9 
  • Deprivation of liberty, equality and personhood;10 treating their partner and children as objects.11
  • Extreme jealousy, possessiveness and ridiculous accusations of infidelity. (Abusers often imagine that their partner is cheating, and jealousy and suspicion are the usual motivations of men who murder a current or former partner.12,13)
  • Punishing the partner and children for infractions (and imaginary infractions) of their rules.
  • Ignoring their partner’s needs, opinions and feelings, and the harm that their behavior does to her/him.
  • Separation violence.

Domestic abuse is unlikely to end just because the victim ends the relationship. It often continues or escalates at separation, as a continuation of coercive control.  In fact, many murders of abused women occur during or after separation, when the abuser feels the victim is escaping his/her control, and tries to re-establish it. But domestic abuse is not caused by separation,14 and thinking that it is can lead us to grossly underestimate the danger to the victim. Unlike people who abuse their partners, those who engage only in separation-related violence are typically ashamed of what they have done, and stop after one or two episodes.

Consequences to victims:
  • Injuries – minor to severe – are highly likely.
  • Stress-related illnesses; long-term disabilities.
  • Unwanted pregnancies.
  • Lost work time, unemployment, poverty.
  • Loss of children, harm to children, parenting difficulties.
  • PTSD, depression, substance abuse.
  • Death.  About 1/3 of female murder victims each year are killed by an intimate partner, compared to 3- 4% of male victims.15
Implications for intervention: 

Victims need domestic violence services, safety planning, orders of protection, and support. Victims should not have to deal with their partner’s domestic abuse all by themselves. 


How we understand domestic violence shapes how we intervene. 

  • If we see domestic abuse as simply problematic individual behavior, driven by mental health problems or substance abuse, we look for ways to respond therapeutically to the individual. 
  • If we see it as attitude-driven and socially reinforced, we look for social changes that make it less likely. 
  • If we see it as essentially a crime, we look for criminal justice solutions.  
  • And if we are not clear about why abusers act as they do, we are likely to take potshots at the problem – and risk doing more harm than good. 

Strategies for various professionals can be found in What Can I Do To Help Hold Abusers Accountable

Questions to ask yourself:  Does your partner abuse  you?
  • Does he minimize and excuse his violence and exaggerate yours?
  • Does she express attitudes of entitlement?
  • Does he exaggerate his injuries and minimize yours?
  • Does he seem to intentionally choose where and when he gets violent, and what part of your body he attacks?
  • Is how he acts in public different from how he acts at home?
  • Does she only destroy your property when she’s “out of control” – not her own?
  • Does he try to make himself appear to be a victim?
If you answered “yes” to many of these questions…
  • Seeing your partner’s behavior accurately could help you stop blaming yourself for it.
  • You may want to talk over your situation with an advocate at alocal domestic violence program, or with your counselor, if you have one.

Next Page:Why Would Anyone Abuse Their Partner?

Back To Understanding Domestic Abusers homepage

  1. Johnson, M.P. (2008). A Typology of Domestic Violence:  Intimate terrorism, violent resistance, and situational couple violence. Boston: Northeastern University Press.
  2. Kelly & Johnson, (2008). 
  3. Stark, E. (2007). Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life, Oxford University Press, refers to this behavior as coercive control, p 387.
  4. Dutton, M.A., Goodman, L. & Schmidt, R.J. (2006). Development and Validation of a Coercive Control Measure for Intimate Partner Violence: Final Technical Report. National Institute of Justice.
  5. Moore, A.M., Frohwirth, L. & Miller, E. (2010). Male reproductive control of women who have experienced intimate partner violence in the United States, Guttmacher Institute.
  6. Kelly & Johnson (2008).
  7. “[N]onviolent control tactics may be effective without the use of violence (especially if there has been a history of violence in the past)…. Johnson (2008) has recently argued for the recognition of “incipient” Coercive Controlling Violence (cases in which there is a clear pattern of power and control but not yet any physical violence), and Stark (2007) contends…that the focus in the law should shift from the violence itself to the coercive control as a “liberty crime.” Ibid., p 481-482.
  8. Stark (2007), refers to this behavior as coercive control, p 387.
  9. Bancroft, L. & Silverman, J.G.  (2002a). The Batterer as a Parent. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  10. Wilson, M. & Daly, M. (1993). Spousal homicide risk & estrangement.  Violence & Victims, 8(1), 3-16.
  11. Kimmel, M. (2001). Male Victims of Domestic Violence: A Substantive and Methodological Research Review – a report to The Equality Committee of the Department of Education and Science.
  12. Ibid. True separation-related violence is unexpected violence by a previously nonviolent partner – usually the one who is being left.
  13. Fox, J.A. & Zawitz, M.W. (2007). Homicide Trends in the U.S.: Intimate Homicide, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Brandis & Cash will let 184 women be killed by #domesticviolence before release in 2017

National Family Violence Bench Book

9 June 2015

Joint media release

Senator The Hon George Brandis QC

Minister Assisting The Prime Minister For Women
Senator The Hon Michaelia Cash

Today we announce that work has commenced on a National Family Violence Bench Book which is another Abbott Government initiative to eliminate the scourge of domestic violence.

The current prevalence of family violence in Australia is utterly unacceptable. The Abbott Government has made it a priority to protect the safety of women and children.

It is fundamental that women and their families are safe from violence in their homes and communities and we remain absolutely committed to ensuring we reduce and ultimately end domestic violence.

The Bench Book will be a comprehensive online tool for judges across Australia, covering civil and criminal laws in federal, state and territory jurisdictions. It will promote best practice and consistency in judicial decision making in cases involving family violence.

This is a significant step towards an effective, harmonised approach to family violence in our courts. We have asked the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration, in partnership with the University of Queensland TC Beirne School of Law, to develop the Bench Book.

An expert advisory group, including judges, legal practitioners and academics will inform the content.

The Bench Book implements a recommendation of the Australian Law Reform Commission and the New South Wales Law Reform Commission in their 2010 Report, Family Violence— A National Legal Response. It will complement efforts under the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children.

We thank the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration and the University of Queensland for undertaking this important work.

The Bench Book will be made available in June 2017. We look forward to it becoming Australia’s leading judicial resource on family violence in the court system.